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tv news: is hannibal too gay for NBC?

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Anybody keeping up on pop culture news has most likely heard that NBC has cancelled Bryan Fuller’s operatic adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal series. The series’ third season returned to the aforementioned network on June fourth, to 2.57 million viewers, and saw just 1.6 million the next week’s episode, which aired during an NBA final. With both seasons one and two seeing just under 2 million viewers at its lows and only just over 4 million at it’s highs, the ratings for season three can hardly be surprising or even disappointing to NBC, who apparently kept the show going because the licensing rights were inexpensive. Nonetheless, the network that ‘kept [Hannibal] on the air for three seasons despite Cancellation Bear Chow ratings and images that would have shredded the eyeballs of lesser Standards & Practices enforcers’ according to Fuller, has decided that it’s finally time to axe the show.

The series’ executive producer, Martha De Laurentiis, tweeted after the announcement “#Hannibal was always in danger of cancellation due to subject matter,” referring to the ongoing series of murders committed by the show’s titular cannibal. However the subject matter in question seems comparatively tame in season three as opposed to the previous seasons. Fans and critics alike expressed the desensitising effect the show was having on them in their reviews of the eighth episode of season two, Su-zakana. As critic Mark Rozeman wrote, this is “an episode where bodies are sewn inside a dead horse and my initial reaction is, “Okay, they’re slowing it down a bit this week.” This episode, where a Turducken-like creation was made out of a bird sewn into a woman, sewn into a horse, and later someone is sewn inside a horse, rips open the stitches from the inside and crawls out of the horse, aired on the network a whole three weeks before the series was renewed for a third season.

So I found myself wondering, why would NBC choose now to pull the plug on the series, when the ratings show no significant drop and the content is no more violent than usual? What’s changed in season three? The answer: Hannibal’s relationship with his former patient, Will.

Hannibal and Will always had an intense relationship. When Will is brought in to work for the FBI in season one, Hannibal is hired as Will’s psychiatrist, to ensure Will isn’t getting in too deep with his profiling of the heinous serial killer, The Chesapeke Ripper. As the series moved forward, Hannibal took great pleasure in melding Will’s mind like silly putty, and as Will became aware of this, he flipped the tables. All the while the two became surrogate fathers to the orphan of another cannibal killer, and created the kind of messed up family that only Bryan Fuller could imagine. However, it is only in this season that the relationship has gone from implicit sexual tension and double entendres to full blown, explicit declarations of love in the only way a psychopath knows how: moulding a human corpse “Valentine,” or leaving a literal “broken heart” for his would-be partner to find.

In episode three of the current season, the last episode to air before cancellation, Will states ‘I’ve never known myself as well as I know myself with [Hannibal].’ And Hannibal expresses more that once his love for Will.

NBC, headed by straight, white, Catholic, 56-year-old Steve Burke currently has in its line up one series with a queer main character, but Hannibal is the only show they air where two men are canonically romantically involved. Of course, NBC is the network responsible for the game changing, Will and Grace, but is Hannibal just too gay? Whilst Will and Grace had a gay main character, the show’s central relationship was always that of the non-romantic titular couple. Now that Hannibal’s central relationship is canonically homosexual, is it one step too far for NBC?

Whilst the show’s creator and producers seem confident in Hannibal’s continuation with another broadcaster, the underlying prejudice that seems to be the fuel of NBC’s decision is one that is more worrying than the fate of the little watched but greatly beloved show.

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5 thoughts on “tv news: is hannibal too gay for NBC?

  1. To be honest, I still think it’s mostly about the ratings. Hannibal was moved to summer as a test and since the ratings dropped instead of increasing, well… but got to say I agree with you too. And I’m glad they went with it anyway 🙂

  2. I am not so sure this is the reason. Aquarius airs right before Hannibal, and there has been many gayer scenes in that show than there has been in Hannibal.

  3. To be honest, I think it may have less to do with the homosexual element per se, as with the fact that a majority of potential viewers may just not see it in the context of the Hannibal Lecter character. Let me say up front that I am not personally a fan of the Lecter/Starling romance which Harris unfolded in the books. But having said that…this was the actual canon. Being advertised a series in which the central character was Hannibal Lecter, most people would quite frankly expect to see Clarice Starling at some point, barring any case–and if love story ever became an aspect, nobody would really picture Will Graham in her place (until this show at least). Siding with realism: Hannibal and Will were never written as gay men in the actual canon. Furthermore, the central interaction that probably comes to the dominant mindset when they hear the name Hannibal Lecter is really that depicted between him and Clarice Starling. The series was interesting to be sure, but frankly lacking this element. To recap, it’s not that emotionally obsess over it (I hate it actually); but I still would have intellectually expected it, and I simply may not be alone in this regard.

    Stating it another way, I think the show may have honestly become too bizarre for some when Fuller decided to apparently make the entire focus of the plot “What if Hannibal fell in gay love with Will Graham?” I personally love Will Graham’s character, honestly more than I do Clarice Starling’s. Graham possessed an amazing gift and was Hannibal’s true equal–something that Clarice could never be, IMHO, no matter how good and strong she was. She just didn’t have those extra mirror neurons. But that being said nonetheless: I still have to candidly say that I see the primary relationship in Hannibal Lecter’s life as being that which he had with Clarice–1) Because that’s the way Harris wrote it, and 2) Because Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal were just such phenomenal, iconic films. Even though I disapproved of the romance element Harris wrote between Hannibal and Clarice, it was at least anticipated from my point of view. I honestly felt even more weirded out by Bryan Fuller shifting this element to Will Graham instead. Really, Graham was a straight man with a wife and child–the thought of Lecter gay crushing on him is just TOO creepy for my taste. Not to mention Will quasi-returning the gay attraction back, when the character is (no offense Bryan) 1) SUPPOSED to be straight and 2) has watched Hannibal attempt to murder many people he espouses to care for. Regardless of how extreme Will’s empathy gift could possibly be, Will is still a good, moral character himself–even the male bonding viewpoint touted by the show’s creators seems to me quite frankly as a somewhat poor explanation for Will’s apparently boundless capacity to overlook Hannibal’s evil and “see the best in him.” (The best? WTF, he is a cannabalistic serial killer, notwithstanding any other supposedly good character traits. Apologies.)

    At least Lecter’s romance with Clarice took place in the context of an unmarried person who was not constantly making weird overtures outside of her stated sexual orientation–and who Lecter purportedly brainwashed, rather a difference than genuinely “giving in” so to speak. The characterization of Will Graham on NBC honestly just went too far into outer space after awhile IMHO–like the show became more and more about Bryan Fuller’s personal fantasies regarding Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham in a gay light (genuinely no offense intended to the gay community) than about any inkling of realism or unbiased interpretation of canon. Not that any changes to official canon are wrong–in fact they are often welcome to drive the excitement of a television show upward. But this particular change was maybe just too radical for the audience and flubbed up by gradually taking over the entire show.

    I just want to take a few lines here to reiterate that I have nothing against the gay community. It’s not the fact that it was a gay relationship, it’s just the circumstance that these two particular characters were not written as gay, and I believe it causes that aspect to be rather harder for the audience to relate to. A gay relationship could have been incorporated elsewhere on the show, and people might not have reacted to it with so much apathy. From a marketing standpoint, I don’t really think anyone besides Fuller (and the few hardcore fans who actually drool over this element) is really getting very turned on watching it. They’re probably more likely experiencing genuine indifference–and to be honest, that hurts the show’s watchability.

  4. Wow! Didn’t know the show had a gay element to it until I read this review. Gave the pilot a shot, and though I liked it, there was just too much competition with other shows like GOT, Walking Dead, AHS, etc…not enough hours in the week. That said, I’m definitely going to binge-watch the entire series now!

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